Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The New York Review of Books: Fifty Years of Tradition

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The New York Review of Books: Fifty Years of Tradition

Article excerpt

Fifty years ago, when a printers' strike silenced New York's newspapers, Robert Silvers and his friends started The New York Review of Books with a lineup of such formidable writers as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer and W.H. Auden.

When the second issue appeared, Pittsburgh native Al Van Dine subscribed to the biweekly magazine that covers literature, culture and current affairs and whose readers appreciate authoritative writers, many of whom have academic heft or harrumph, depending on their mood.

"I had to educate myself," said Mr. Van Dine, the retired founder of a successful local ad agency who still reads the review. Among his favorite contributors was legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, who died in February.

"He was great at saying why [U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin] Scalia was full of it but there was no name calling," said Mr. Van Dine, an avowed liberal whose regular perch is a table at Commonplace Coffeehouse in Squirrel Hill, where he sits with a laptop and daily dose of caffeine.

The New York Review of Books began this year by celebrating its 50th birthday, and Mr. Silvers, its 83-year-old editor, has enjoyed a rousing victory lap, including an appearance at New York's Town Hall with readings by longtime contributors plus a visit to the White House last summer to receive the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

From its inception, the New York Review's dual guiding force was Barbara Epstein, who served as co-editor until her death in 2006. She and Jason Epstein, her husband at the time, were among the founders, along with Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick.

In the beginning, the magazine was a gray publication with plenty of headlines and text. The cover of the Dec. 19 holiday issue features red and blue typeface and a color image; inside are scads of ads from university presses. Like many print publications, it has launched a website with a blog, archives, videos and products for sale.

About 150,000 people read The New York Review of Books in print or online, said Catherine Tice, associate publisher. Figures from the Alliance for Audited Media show that as of June 2013, The Atlantic Monthly had a circulation of print and online readers that totaled 477,990 while Harper's Magazine had 187,635 readers.

Unlike some journals that depend on subsidies or a nonprofit foundation, The New York Review has maintained its independence and financial health. Since 1984, it has been owned by Rea S. Hederman, who comes from a Mississippi newspaper family.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Silvers said his publication's goal remains unchanged: "to review only books that we thought deserved review" and to find respected writers who produce thoughtful essays, not boring book reports. …

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